How Europe’s leading universities can – and must – stay at the forefront of the Knowledge Revolution
In a world driven by new technologies and constant, rapid innovation, ‘knowledge’ is the new capital of the globalised economy. The revolution in communications technology now makes knowledge available in new forms at the press of a button. The discoverers, disseminators and manipulators of knowledge have become the driving force of the modern economy. Our leading universities, major producers of knowledge, have a key role to play – and remain the key instruments of economic and social development.
At the same time, there are many new knowledge providers in this new world, ranging from company-based ‘universities’ and other independent groups, through think tanks and document centres, to sponsored advocacy groups. Universities, therefore, can no longer rely on its traditional monopoly of advanced knowledge and highly educated people. In order to compete, Europe’s leading universities need to seek out a new public and economic role at the heart of democratic society.
Just as the universities adapted to the arrival of the printing press, 500 years ago, so today they must adapt - and indeed are adapting - to a bigger challenge: the information revolution since the 1990s.
This was the thinking that led to the launch of a major international dialogue or ‘conversation’ involving university leaders, academics and students with business leaders, politicians, policy-makers and researchers. These conversations would take the form of an inquiry to study just how European universities can stay at the forefront of this new Knowledge Revolution, and indeed lead it.
This report emerges from an international investigation into how European universities can – and must – operate at the forefront of the Knowledge Revolution in the 21st century, involving some 200 experts, academics, policy-advisors, politicians, and practitioners and 50 graduate students drawn from across and beyond Europe. What follows is a selection of what can be deemed to be key statements, key quotes and key recommendations, worthy of further and wider consideration emerging from a three-year inquiry. Not every participant will, of course, have agreed with every recommendation.
The Spirit of Education
European universities should not seek simply to ape the leading American universities because of any feeling of inferiority. They should not live in the shadow of the Ivy League. They should seek to study US universities and other models of success to improve their performance and all round quality while understanding and maintaining their own special qualities, particularly linked to of diversity of approaches in study and learning, in funding support, and in composition of student and staff bodies. It was agreed that they must then move forward with confidence
Universities have a key role to play in the production of economic and social knowledge. Universities also have a key role in the production of the qualified, the professional and the leaders. However, universities must always aim beyond merely producing more and more ‘trained’ people, with the right skills that meet the immediate demands of society and government. They must be citizens. They must be complete individuals.
I am very privileged and gratified to talk to you today. I think it is most appropriate to have this meeting at the Humboldt University, Berlin, because of the impetus for the creation of the European network, the sequence of events, and that great turning point of history, which is symbolised by the fall of the Berlin wall. It was that particular impulse that started an enterprise to bring together teachers and students in, first of all, Western European Universities to offer resources to those universities which had only recently emerged in other parts of Europe – the reason we started the Europaeum network.
There are universities because knowledge is always being created and has to be passed on. Research is the lifeblood of the university!
One of the risks of holding a conference like this is the European weather in December; sometimes airports close completely, stranding delegates, and this is exactly what has happened to Dr Norbet Bensel. He sends his sincere apologies that he cannot be here in time and will try and join us as soon as possible.
I am honoured to be here before representatives of the oldest European universities, and since I have dedicated my life to teaching and research at a prestigious European university, I would like to address the topic of our meeting from a viewpoint that I hold to be fundamental for the future of European universities and for Europe itself: knowledge.
This, the first conference organised by the Europaeum, addresses the future of European universities, a theme that is both timeless and timely – but it further addresses two more specific, and potentially contradictory, themes. The first is the idea of borderless education, which is typically associated with the forces of globalisation (and so with the liberalisation, and even commercialisation, of higher education). The second is the idea of bridging Europe, which is associated with the process of creating a European higher education space and, therefore, is the responsibility of nation states and of other European institutions.
I am Professor of Public Law in the Netherlands and the Dean and Rector of the University of Europe. I already live in very international surroundings. We have only a few hundred students in the College of Europe, but more than forty nationalities. We have only 150 Professors but they are constantly coming and going. In my view, the future of the university is already a reality, although the College of Europe is a small unit and a postgraduate institution.
I have been working a long time in the university as a professor. I’m a middle-level worker from the university, a member of the Scientific Council for Government policy in the Netherlands, and a member of the Royal Academy. I’m also a member of the Global Business Network, based in California. My university is like an idea factory: we try to make a prototype and test it, rather than discuss too much.
First, a personal tribute Lord Weidenfeld: it is largely due to his enthusiasm that the seven Universities that so far form the Europaeum network are particularly concerned with borderless education, international co-operation in research and teaching and international exchange of students and professors. It is my firm belief that in the years to come, networks like the Europaeum will be even more necessary than they have been in the past.